When Justice and Legal Affairs Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, attended the 19th Session at the UN Human Rights Council in March 2012, he made a number of promises to improve the human rights situation, including special attention to women’s rights. But with the Government of National Unity’s poor track record when it comes to respecting human rights, it is questionable if these promises will translate into actual changes on the ground.
In October, 2011, Zimbabwe underwent the Universal Period Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Chinamasa, accepted a wide range of recommendations aiming to improve the human rights situation in Zimbabwe, including 15 recommendations directly dealing with women’s political participation and prevention of marginalisation and gender-based violence.
Since October, Chinamasa has had some time to think, and in his address to the Human Rights Council on 15th March he made further promises, such as implementation of domestic policies to prevent political violence; ratification of the Convention Against Torture and operationalizing the Human Rights Commission to enable it to investigate human rights abuses.
These words are full of promises of a brighter future for women of Zimbabwe, but knowing the history of the current regime’s disregard of its obligations to protect its citizens and promote human rights and social justice for all, there is limited hope that the words will lead to significant changes for men and women of Zimbabwe.
On the contrary, Zimbabwe’s regime has over the years repeatedly proved that promises and signatures on conventions have very limited impact on the actual actions on ground. The Convention on the Elimination of All Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) serves as a good example.
Zimbabwe ratified CEDAW in 1991, but at the review by the CEDAW Committee in February this year, it became glaringly clear that the state had done very little to live up to its obligations to protect and promote women’s right to take part in the social, economic and political development of Zimbabwe. Despite rosy words and intentions laid out in the Zimbabwean State Report to the CEDAW Committee, the result of the review showed that in reality very little has been done to protect and promote the rights of women.
Women in Zimbabwe are still to a large extent excluded from influence on equal terms with men, and in addition female politicians and civic activists, associated with the democracy movement, are direct targets of state-sponsored political violence. No serious efforts have been made to end impunity for perpetrators of political violence and make sure women are free and safe to participate in politics and public life.
In spite of the increased pressure on Zimbabwe’s government based on the international human rights obligations, these are only small steps towards greater respect for the rights of all Zimbabweans.
International human rights treaties and review mechanisms are important ways of identifying and addressing human rights violations, but the only way Zimbabweans will see real improvements on the ground is when people stand up and demand their rights as human beings and as citizens of Zimbabwe. Civil society and the broader democracy movement plays an important role in mobilising and organising Zimbabweans to push for the government to become accountable to its people.